How We Grow Them At Earth To Joy

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At Earth to Joy we grow mainly Australian Native Dendrobium and Sarcochilus, as well as a few Exotics. Organic products are used to grow our plants. We spend all day, most days, in our growing areas and enjoy working in a safe environment. Our growth and flowering is such that we would not do anything else.

WHAT WE DO - is nothing special but it is easy and works wonders. Our methods are a combination of advice from others and our own experience.

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**MEDIA - Open media is vital. Orchid roots need to be able to breathe or they will suffocate and your plant will die. Suitable materials include Pine bark nuggets, Coconut husk, Scoria, Rock/Gravel, Perlite, Polystyrene Foam, among others. You will have to find what works for you eg. Scoria is unsuccessful for us but great for some of my mates while coco husks works for me, other growers I know struggle with it. Pine Bark Nuggets with some Rock on a bed of Polystyrene Foam is a good place to start.

**POT - High drainage pots should be used, Squat pots or standard both work well. Terracotta style saucers look unreal, just drill a good number of holes in it for drainage.

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**Fertilizing We are big fans of Cow Manure Tea - Liquid Gold. (Our mate Phil Gretch put us on to this). We make our own, with a "sock" of shademesh filled with about a bucket and a half or two of cow poo. This is left to soak in a 200L / 44gal Drum of water, let soak for a week or two. Dilute finished product to the color of a weak cup of tea. Plants are watered with the Cow Tea at every third watering. It will clog irrigation systems but may be strained through muslin with a bit of patience and it's sweet then. If you don't have access to cows Nitrosol is a good alternative. If I was to eat lamb all the time it would be Ho Hum, so, I like to mix it up for my orchids by giving a bit of "steak" too. Once a month we give the plants a feed with fish emulsion to vary the intact of nutrients. Though not organic every couple of months plants get a dose of Condies Crystals (Potassium Permanganate) mixed with Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulphate). The Epsom keeps magnesium levels correct while the Condies acts as a fungicide and a Potassium dose. Condies is used sparingly with a light pinking of the water and the Epsom is used at 1 gram per litre.

Though not a Fertilizer we also use Seaweed, it is a great tonic. The seaweed gets into the plants system and hardens the plant cell wall. This is a great advantage for plant hardiness. Used at half the manufacturer's recommended level for plants.

A 50:50 mix of Blood and Bone : Dolomite is thrown over the plants and pot surface as a slow release fertilizer 3 times a year. It is applied at the beginning of Spring, Summer and Autumn.

A WORD ON OUR FEEDING - I am a big fan of these little dudes called Mycorrhiza. These dudes are beneficial fungi. They work with the plant for a mutually beneficial relationship. Mycorrhiza take in amino acids and convert them to proteins and pass them on to the plant, they convert Nitrogen into a usable form for the plant and pass it on, they work in many beneficial ways (You'd need another foolscap page at least). The Organic products described feed these Mycorrhiza. I could really go to town on how good these dudes are.

5 STILL ON FEEDING - For plants to be able to take it the maximum amount of nutrients they must be growing with the correct pH value in the media - 6 to 6.5 is cool, I like to get to 6.5. Generally with the use of fertilizers the media will go acidic slowly, it is a simple job to check and adjust the pH and well worth the effort. A test kit can be bought at any Nursery, it comes with instructions and is a simple process. Most will find the pH to be less than 6, the addition of Agricultural Lime will bring the pH back to the 6.5. The Lime may be used as a top dressing on the pot or a liquid lime may be used when watering. I've been keeping records for years and as a result apply liquid lime with the seaweed application, the first month of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter (I have read somewhere that they work well together). A pH test is done again 2 weeks later and if need be another dose of lime is given with the next lot of Seaweed. It sounds a bit complicated but it isn't, I can do it. These methods have worked for us for a long period now, I would always recommend caution when trying new methods or new products. For the last couple of years now we have used a product called Mag Amp, it works well and is super easy. It is applied via an inline (Hose hook-up) feeder that is easily made. We use it when we water with no fertilizer.

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** WATERING - I do not have a fixed regime for watering I let the plants guide me. Watering orchids, to get the best out of them takes observation and care, more Orchids are killed from poor water management than anything else - Water, Mist and Wet Down. Even be careful where you direct the hose, try to keep the water out of leaf axils.
Seedling plants are regularly watered so that they are not allowed to completely dry out, they get a pretty regular watering or misting and a more regular dose of fertilizer as a result. It is best to "keep our seedlings moving".

Water, Mist, Wet Down -
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- Mature plants are watered via the Tag test. By watering I mean plants are watered until the water is freely running out the bottom of the pot. This is important for a number of reasons ie. To wash out bad fertilizer salts and to re wet media and root zone properly. The most important reason for this flush out is to wash out all the old air in the media and to bring in fresh air - orchids, remember are air plants and want fresh air. As mentioned plants are watered via the tag test - plant tag is removed from pot and the bottom of the tag is felt for moisture. If the tag is dry - water, if it is moist don't water, if you are not sure - don't water. This way you are only watering when the media is dry and needs it - your orchid does not want to live with a constantly wet media.

Misting - misting is done during the warmer months. Misting is done regularly on the seedlings so that they are not allowed to dry out. Late in the afternoon in the heat of Summer mature plants are misted for a cooling down a little drink. Misting does not water the root zone it just gives a light spray over the plant and foliage.

Wet Down - Again only done in the warmer months. The floor is sprayed with water on mega-hot days to bring the orchid house humidity up and bring the temperature down a little.

** LIGHT - Proper light values will give best results for blooming and also keep fungal problems down. Our speciosum are given stacks of light, their leaves go very yellow/green during Summer but blooming is awesome. Minimum of 50% shademesh - they will do full sun no worries. Other dendrobiums are not given as much light, they are grown under 50% light transmission covering, still a good amount of light but not scorching.

7Sarcs and all seedlings are grown with more shading, about 70% - Spread your hand just above the plant foliage, slowly move your other hand about 200mm above your 'foliage hand'. Correct light levels will see a light edge to a shadow on your bottom hand. We add an extra layer of 50% shademesh over the Sarc/Seedling house from September to about April/May.

**BUGS - There are a number of good organic products to target your pests. We use Neem Oil, Natrasoap and Procide (Bifenthrin - ManMade Pyrethrum). These products only work on contact with the pest so a thorough watering must be applied. We have used Eco- Oil with good results too but the Sarcs aren't too keen on it. Natrasoap is our most commonly used pesticide. Oils and Soaps will mark blooms and buds so spraying times are important. We have birds coming and going in our orchid houses (Wrens, Robins, Quail, Honeyeaters, Wagtails, Treecreepers etc), they nest in there and all, I am sure that these guys are helping keep my pest population down too.

**Fungal Problems - A Clean House - Prevention is always better than cure. Give plants maximum light, only water your plants when necessary and make sure you have good airflow through your orchid house - these conditions will help you to keep fungal problems at bay. As already mentioned we use Condies Chrystals in our fertilizing program, this will help keep your environment free from fungal attack. Every couple of months we spray everything with Alginox, a pool algaecide. Plants are hit with a watering of 3ml per litre. The Orchid House (walls, floor, sides and roof) and all benching is hit with 6ml per litre. The Alginox WILL kill sphagnum moss and mark blooms. The Alginox lessens places where fungal spores can hide or take hold. Alginox is not Organic.

8Phosphonic Acid - Comes under many commercial names, Phos Spot, Phos 600 etc. all the same, just read instructions before use as the concentration may not be. We use this once a month and it is applied with a Cowpoo tea application. The Acid is Systemic and thus active thro the whole of the plant. Phosphonic Acid is not a fungicide but it helps create in the plant conditions that are not favourable to fungal attack.

Eco-Rose and Eco-Carb - are organic fungicides. With good plant coverage this product works very well, we have found it effective when it is required. Good for Powdery Mildew, Black Spot and Rust. Eco-Protector will fight Botrytis (Black spotting on blooms), also Organic.

Homemade Fungicides are very effective too. #1 - For Powdery Mildew 1 part Milk to 10 parts Water works well but make sure it is 10:1 or it could feed your problem. #2 - For Rust, Black spot and Powdery Mildew - to 2 litres of water add 1 drop of liquid dish washing detergent (spreader/sticker) and add 4 teaspoons of Bicarbonate of Soda, give a stir to dissolve and it is ready to use.

These notes have been prepared by Lloyd Edwards, Owner/Operator of Earth To Joy Orchid Nursery. Lloyd has been growing orchids for over 30 years, a self described rough-nut but passionate about native orchids and growing them organically. Lloyd is no ChemTech but has come to use these methods through shared thoughts and experience of other orchid growers, research and trial. Please - before you go the whole hog with anything give a try in a small way first. These notes explain what works for us, you will have to work out what works best for you

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